Lankford Issues Open Letter to Constituents

Mike Seals - May 3, 2020 10:56 pm

Dear Oklahoma friends and neighbors:

Next week, the Senate is scheduled to return to Washington, DC. We will still practice social distancing, but we need to get back to work for the American people. There are many issues—both COVID and non-COVID related that need congressional attention like infrastructure, appropriations, education, judicial nominations, and oversight. While engaging in the “safer at home” plan for the last month, I have stayed in virtual contact with Oklahomans around the state, my fellow Senators, the White House team, and with federal agencies. My team and I continue to press agencies to get federal assistance out, speak up for worker protections, work on how to reopen our businesses and nonprofits, protect our rights and religious freedom, and of course get the answers and health advice for this coronavirus outbreak.

It has now been over a month since many Oklahomans began to participate in the “safer at home” initiative. While some have the option to telecommute to work from their homes, many of our neighbors have continued working away from home to serve our communities in health care, law enforcement, emergency response, freight, food supply, and critical infrastructure. We cannot thank them enough for the sacrifices they have made to serve. As Oklahomans, we’re familiar with coming together in times of crisis to safely support our friends, neighbors, and communities. I’m encouraged by the way federal, state, and local leaders and nonprofits have come together to provide much-needed support for those who are out of work and those whose businesses are struggling. Over the past weeks, we have all found ways to serve each other rather than waiting for someone from Washington, DC, to come and serve us. In America, “the government” is all of us.

The severe weather around our state the past few days once again brought out networks of volunteers who are helping those in need and beginning clean-up efforts for those affected. Our law enforcement, medical personnel and first responders stepped up again, even during the COVID-19 outbreak. Cindy and I were grieved by the loss of life due to the storms, and we continue to pray for the victims and their families.

We should keep in mind that the coronavirus is still present in Oklahoma, it remains highly contagious and it is dangerous for people with underlying health issues. The May 1 first phase of reopening in Oklahoma is designed to get our economy going again but still keep social distancing and encourage the most vulnerable to stay at home a little while longer. Scientists at our Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as well as pharmaceutical companies and universities around the nation and internationally are working tirelessly toward a vaccine and treatments for the virus. We are testing more and more Oklahomans every day, and our efforts to stay apart for the last several weeks have given us time to obtain more medical supplies, develop treatments, and help our healthcare professionals.

Early on in this outbreak, my office began compiling resources—federal, state, nonprofit—on the current issues page of my website. Feel free to use our website or let us know if we can help through the links and phone numbers on that page or by calling or emailing my office. Although most of our team continues to telework, we remain engaged with Oklahomans daily to continue to address federal casework and help Oklahomans navigate the federal resources available.

On April 22, Governor Stitt announced the Open Up and Recover Safely (OURS) plan to slowly begin phasing in returning Oklahomans to work and opening up businesses. Following his announcement, I hosted Governor Kevin Stitt on a virtual town hall on my website and Facebook page to answer Oklahomans’ questions directly on state and federal initiatives to help provide economic relief, help our health care facilities continue to care for people, especially in rural areas, and even work on reopening the state and nation slowly but as soon and safely as possible.

CLICK HERE to read Governor Stitt’s plan.

As we work to safely reopen our state and nation in phases I remain in communication with the President’s coronavirus task force spearheaded by Vice President Pence and Ambassador Birx. On April 16, President Trump asked me to serve on his Task Force on Economic Recovery along with Senator Jim Inhofe and others. We are continuing to work through logistics on how to safely get the country back up and running as efficiently as possible.

CLICK HERE to learn more about President Trump’s Task Force on Economic Recovery.

CLICK HERE to watch my virtual town hall with Governor Stitt.

On April 27, President Trump announced his Administration’s latest efforts to ensure states and other entities continue to have the coronavirus testing resources needed to safely reopen as they work through their own processes. On April 28, President Trump also signed an Executive Order to keep meat packing plants in our nation open to ensure stability in our food supply going forward in this pandemic. The US Department of Agriculture also plans to release additional resources for our nation’s farmers, ranchers, and producers some time next week. Please check back on my current issues page for more details in the days ahead.

CLICK HERE to read more on the President’s plan to increase testing resources.

CLICK HERE to read more about President Trump’s Executive Order regarding the food supply.

Throughout this pandemic I have continued to connect with hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans during stay-at-home guidelines via video and telephone conferences in order to answer their questions on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and its recent extension by Congress of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) program, and funds to hospitals and health facilities. My office has worked with state officials and has hosted eight telephone town halls and my first virtual town hall last week. If you missed any of these events and want to listen to the conversation, you can find recordings HERE.

CLICK HERE to visit my current issues page for resources for you, your family, and/or your business.

We continue to work through issues like how to help boost the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR)—an important issue I began working to address weeks ago when oil prices plummeted to historic lows and it was clear we would have more oil and gasoline than we can store. The SPR is a massive national stockpile of oil, but it is also a great place to store excess capacity of oil for a short period of time to help us reduce the global supply glut.  Energy companies with under 500 employees also can use the PPP to give them two months of payroll to help during this season. I have also talked with leadership in the Department of Energy about how we can make low interest loans available to energy companies so they can have access to credit during this downturn. I will stay on top of this energy industry issue since it directly affects so many Oklahomans, their livelihoods, and our communities.

CLICK HERE to watch a floor speech I gave on the CARES Act, in which I discuss the need to include the ability to expand SPR capacity.

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CLICK HERE to watch a video of some of my recent Oklahoma media appearances.

UPDATE: Economic Relief to Oklahoma Workers and Businesses

Since the last Lankford Letter, my staff and I have continued to work with federal agencies, hospitals and healthcare professionals, workers, small businesses, financial institutions, cities and localities, and more to ensure the testing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and economic relief is dispersed properly and timely. We are also working together to ensure congressional oversight of federal agencies, their implementation of the law, and their adherence to your constitutional protections during this coronavirus outbreak.

In March, the Senate passed the CARES Act, which provided much-needed economic relief and additional resources to hospitals and medical professionals. The bill included $350 billion toward PPP, which ensured small businesses could continue to pay payroll, rent, and utilities. Oklahoma businesses have already received well over $4 billion from the PPP, and as the funds were dispersed to financial institutions around the country, it became clear very quickly that the program needed additional funding.

Last week, the Senate unanimously voted to provide almost $500 billion in additional funding to hospitals, the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) and the PPP. For EIDL, this additional funding will be used to first process prior applications that were already in the queue. The first days of the renewed PPP this week was a huge challenge for the Small Business Administration (SBA). Unnecessary requirements and slowdowns were created by the SBA that created real problems for Oklahoma lending institutions. I would encourage you to be patient, but persistent if your small business or non-profit needs help paying your employees during this significant downturn. The problems being experienced with PPP are not the fault of our Oklahoma lenders, but they are problems nonetheless.

CLICK HERE to read my statement on the bill.

Oklahomans continue to receive their Economic Relief payments of $1,200 per individual and $500 for each dependent child 17 and younger. If you are eligible and haven’t received your direct payment from the US Treasury, you can track your payment at www.IRS.gov by using the “Get My Payment” tool.

The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission (OESC) is now processing applications for the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. If you have questions about Oklahoma’s unemployment insurance (UI) program, you can for UI by clicking HERE. UI is a vital safety net, as soon as companies re-open and offer work the unemployment assistance ends to make sure funds are reserved only for those who need it the most. According to the US Department of Labor, “individuals receiving regular unemployment compensation must act upon any referral to suitable employment and must accept any offer of suitable employment. Barring unusual circumstances, a request that a furloughed employee return to his or her job very likely constitutes an offer of suitable employment that the employee must accept. While eligibility for PUA does not turn on whether an individual is actively seeking work, it does require that the individual be unemployed, partially employed, or unable or unavailable to work due to certain circumstances that are a direct result of COVID-19 or the COVID-19 public health emergency.”

Many Oklahomans do not have the opportunity to return to their jobs and will need to seek new employment before the end of July when PUA is discontinued. The program was designed with the fluctuating economy and potential permanent closure of some businesses in mind. The goal is to help unemployed workers until they can return to their job or find a new job. Some Oklahomans may need to access PUA until the very end of this time period as our economy gets back up and running. This is truly a balance to protect the vulnerable who need assistance while also getting people back to work. UI and PUA are programs designed to help those in need during difficult times. Our office continues to work closely with OESC and nonprofits around the state that are assisting those in great need.

There are multiple qualifying circumstances related to COVID-19 that can make an individual eligible for PUA, including if the individual quits his or her job as a direct result of COVID-19. Quitting to access unemployment benefits is not one of them. Individuals who quit their jobs to access higher benefits, and are untruthful in their unemployment application about their reason for quitting, will be considered to have committed fraud. If desired, employers can contest UI claims through their state UI agency’s process.

If you believe you are a victim of fraud, please email OESC at [email protected] and file a report with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office by completing the online form. CLICK HERE for that document.

Please remember to show compassion to your friends and neighbors regardless of what situation their family is in. We are truly all in this together.

Holocaust Remembrance Week

Last week was Holocaust Remembrance week. Please take a moment with your families to keep the victims of the Holocaust, their families, the brave members of our Armed Forces who fought and won World War II and ended the Holocaust in your prayers. We can never forget the atrocities of the Holocaust, and we must ensure we continue to stand by our pledge of “never again.”

Last October Senator Jacky Rosen of Nevada and I launched the Senate Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism.

CLICK HERE to read more about the Task Force.

CLICK HERE to read my joint statement with Senator Rosen commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Week.

Help for Student Veterans

Last week, the Senate unanimously passed the Student Veteran Coronavirus Response Act of 2020, which would ensure the VA continues paying work-study allowances, ensure veterans can receive additional housing allowance payments if their institution closes due to COVID-19, and allow student veterans to have their education entitlements restored or extended if campuses are closed or veterans are forced to withdraw due to COVID-19. This builds on a bill I co-authored to protect GI Bill benefits for veteran students whose classes were transitioned to online classes due to school closures. Our bill is called the Protect Veterans’ Education and Training Spending (PROTECT Vets) Act.

CLICK HERE for more information on the PROTECT Vets Act.

Congressional Oversight and the Federal Coronavirus Response

Over the past several weeks, my fellow senators and I have sent official letters to clarify guidance on COVID-19 and other issues including:

In the days ahead, Congress will have to address many other COVID issues, but we will also have to address our rapidly growing national debt. The US government is all of us. When we give financial support to a family, a hospital, a university, a business or a state/local government, that is additional US debt that we must pay back in the future. The rising cost of interest payments that must be paid each month prevents us from spending on national defense, education, roads, healthcare, and more. We must work to pay off our debt together so rising interest costs do not prevent us from doing the things that are essential. So, as you have ideas and insight, please feel free to share those thoughts with me and my team as we work on proposals to pay off this new debt.

Please remain engaged with my office as we work through this pandemic and solving issues together.

In God We Trust,
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James Lankford
United States Senator for Oklahoma

 

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